Tuesday, May 31, 2011

It's Better In The Playoffs

You know all those fortune cookie fortunes sound better with the ending "in bed." At least the adult version (or if you get a fortune like I did, "You will get caught", not fun reading in front of the wife). When it comes to the NHL, there is no doubt it is better with the post saying: "In the Playoffs".

The Hockey News is a magazine someone subscribed to me eons ago and it normally finds a home on the back of the throne. But perusing through the May edition of this year, I came across some numbers that astounded me and prove that things are better post regular season. I wanted to break down some of their numbers in their article "2010-2011 Playoff Pace" (on newstands now).

The following numbers have been compiled to show the difference between the regular season versus the playoffs. Some increases are minor in size, some significant. But all prove the point that we suffer through 82 games to get to the beauty that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Attendance (building capacity)

Reg. Season: 92.7% vs. Playoffs: 101.2% - Okay, just about every team in the top three or four in the conference has boasted sell out crowds leading up to the end of the season (if not all season long). Let's take out the fact that the NHL only recognizes sold tickets and not turntables for attendance (if you were wondering, give away tickets do count as sold tickets). So even though a team could say it is a sell-out crowd, you may see a few of your fellow fans didn't make it to the arena.

But in the playoffs the numbers seem to match more closely, tickets sold in this case really does mean butts in seats for a playoff game. Plus it's always fun to have more of your fellow fans to taunt, cheer and berate the action.

Goals per game

Reg. Season: 5.46 vs. Playoffs: 5.54 - Goals are always a good thing, and this year even though the gpg is slight, the scoring has seen an increase most likely because teams once scored on are going all out to tie the game up. Not to mention we have seen a couple of really good 1-0 and 2-1 games this post season. So you would expect naturally this number would go up.

Fights per game

Reg. Season: .524 vs. Playoffs: .135 - It certainly not due to the effort of the NHL to suppress fighting in the game, but rather an acknowledgement that a fight doesn't cure a badly played game. It also points to the need for four solid lines as each shift suddenly becomes more and more important. Guys are not settling old bets, they realize that they need to stay out of the penalty box or face the wrath of a really good power play. Besides, players have their whole careers to settle sore scores.

Hits per game

Reg. Season: 45.5 vs. Playoffs: 60.9 - While the Playoffs are often called the sprint after an 82 game marathon season, a seven game series can be gruelingly long. Hits are all that more important as a team wants to tire the opposition and play physical hockey through out. Besides, you tell an NHLer he is in the playoffs and he is guaranteed not to forget to finish his checks. I am actually surprised the number isn't bigger.

Blocked Shots per game

Reg. Season: 28.4 vs. Playoffs: 33.9 - Again, it is all about sacrificing the body. Players are understanding the importance of blocking shots. A puck that doesn't get to the net is a puck that doesn't end up in the back of one. I think Aristotle said that.

Power Play percentage

Reg. Season: 18.9 vs. Playoffs: 17.3 - This number did surprise me at first. But once you really think about it, teams in the playoffs do not get there with out a good penalty kill. It's a slight decrease in part due to the amount of blocked shots go up (a trade off of sorts). The number is surprising considering the next stat.

PIM per game

Reg. Season: 24.5 vs. Playoffs: 25.9 - It is surprising the number of penalties called per game has actually gone up, while the power play numbers are going down. You might say that the Officials might be calling the games tighter. But I actually think the opposite is true. Players are more apt to reign in an opposing player once they are beat and take the penalty rather than give up a quality scoring chance.

I do think the Referees, for the most part, are letting some of the ticky-tac calls go and looking for the obvious calls. A player is not only scrutinized by fans and on national TV, but in the locker room as well by coaches. If a player gets beat on the ice, then he better do whatever he can to stop it from becoming a scoring chance which includes hooking the player or slashing his stick in two. Plus with the good PK's going around, why take the chance.

Save percentage

Reg. Season: .913 vs. Playoffs: .916 - Goaltending only gets better in the post season. But don't take my word for it, look at what Roberto Loungo and Tim Thomas are doing. They are practically willing their teams to the finals. There is no doubt that the goaltenders kick it into another gear when Stanley's Cup is being flashed around.

Some pretty interesting numbers for sure. But it all the stats can't take away from what these amazing athletes can push themselves to do. Save percentage is just a number compared to a "Hail Mary" stick save by Thomas in Game 5 can do. Or useless stat as blocked shots means nothing to Steven Stamkos' nose and three shifts later he is on the ice again. There is much more than numbers to prove how special the post season is. It is just nice to see that some stats seem to share that sentiment.

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